BRAHMA CHELLANEY, Special to The Globe and Mail
Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author, most recently of Water, Peace, and War .
The Brussels bombings, as with the Paris terrorist attacks last year, show that jihadi-minded citizens of European Union states can turn into killers by imbibing the insidious ideology of Wahhabism.
This is the mother of fanatical Islamist groups – al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and Islamic State – all of which blend hostility toward non-Sunni Muslims and anti-modern romanticism into nihilistic rage.
The key to battling Islamist terrorism is to stem the spread of the ideology that has fostered “jihad factories.” The export of Wahhabism by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some other oil sheikdoms is the source of modern Islamist terror. From Africa to Asia and now Europe, Arabian petrodollars have played a key role in fomenting militant Islamic fundamentalism that targets the West, Israel and India as its enemies.
No country has contributed more than Saudi Arabia to the international spread of Wahhabism, which is gradually snuffing out more liberal Islamic traditions in many countries. If Saudi Arabia is to be stopped from continuing to export radical Islamist extremism, the United States and Europe will have to adjust their policies to stop the cloistered Saudi royals from continuing to fund Muslim extremist groups and madrassas in other countries.
With Western support, tyrannical oil monarchies in Riyadh, Doha and elsewhere were able to ride out the Arab Spring, emerging virtually unscathed. Saudi Arabia has faced little international pressure, even on human rights.
How the Saudi kingdom buys up world leaders is apparent from the Malaysian attorney-general’s recent disclosure that $681-million (U.S.) deposited in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal bank account was a “personal donation” from the Saudi royals and that $620-million of it was returned. Saudi Arabia has also given between $10-million and $25-million to the Clinton Foundation.
For too long, the rest of the world – in thrall to Saudi money and reliant on Saudi oil – has largely turned a blind eye to the kingdom’s jihadi agenda. That is slowly beginning to change. As German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel put it: “We must make it clear to the Saudis that the time of looking the other way is over.” After last December’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., U.S. President Barack Obama alluded to Wahhabism as a “perverted interpretation of Islam.”
Jihadism and sectarianism are institutionalized in Saudi Arabia, which is named after its founder, commonly known as Ibn Saud. Saud, who ruled for 20 years until his death, brought the central part of the Arabian Peninsula under his control with British assistance in 1932, establishing a desert kingdom hewing to Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that was considered a fringe form of Islam until oil wealth helped transform the once-barren Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest country without a river.
Since the oil-price boom of the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has spent more than $200-billion on its global jihad project, including funding Wahhabi madrassas, mosques, clerics and books. Wahhabism legitimizes violent jihadwith its call for a war on “infidels.”
Europe’s new terror is a reminder that Wahhabi fanaticism is the root from which Islamist terrorists draw their ideological sustenance. As U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden said in a 2014 speech at Harvard University, Saudi and other “allies’ policies wound up helping to arm and build allies of al-Qaeda and eventually the terrorist [Islamic State].”
Today, with its future more uncertain than ever, the House of Saud is increasingly playing the sectarian card to shore up support among the Sunni majority at home and to rally other Islamist rulers in the region to its side. Having helped to militarily crush the Arab Spring uprising in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia in January executed its own Arab Spring leader, Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, who had led anti-regime Shia protests in 2011.
Before the execution, the kingdom formed an alliance of Sunni states purportedly to fight terrorism. The coalition included all the main sponsors of international terror, such as Qatar and Pakistan. It was like arsonists pretending to be fire wardens. According to a United Nations panel of experts, Saudi Arabia is “violating international humanitarian law” in Yemen, where it is waging an air campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
The Saudi royals seem to mistakenly believe that widening the sectarian fault lines in the Islamic world will keep them in power. By drawing legitimacy from jihadism and by being beholden to sectarianism, the royals, however, could be digging their own graves. After all, fuelling jihadism and sectarianism threatens to empower extremists at home and ultimately devour the royalty.
More broadly, the global war on terror cannot be won without closing the wellspring that feeds terrorism: Wahhabi fanaticism. Wahhabism is the ultimate source of the hatred that triggered the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, and the recent Paris and Brussels terrorism.
Shutting that wellspring demands that the West hold Saudia Arabia, the world’s chief ideological sponsor of jihadism, to account for spawning the dangerous extremists who are imperilling regional and international security.
The late Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew correctly said in 2003 that winning the war on terror hinges more on controlling the “queen bees” – the “preachers” of the “deviant form of Islam” – than on simply killing the “worker bees” (terrorists).
As long as Wahhabism keeps jihad factories in business, there will be suicide killers. Dismantling the Saudi, Qatari and other Wahhabi religious-industrial complexes exporting jihadism is more imperative than ever.